Press Ombudsman upholds complaint by Ms Katrina Whelan

By admin
Wednesday, 4th January 2017
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On 28 October 2016 the Press Ombudsman upheld a complaint by Ms Katrina Whelan that the Sunday World breached Principle 5 (Privacy) and Principle 9 (Children) of the Code of Practice of the Press Council of Ireland.

Earlier this year the Sunday World published an article that claimed that a man, whom the article claimed was involved in criminal activity, had become a murder target due to his association with one of rival drug-dealing gangs involved in a feud. The man, it was claimed in the article, had created “his very own territory” in competition with one of the other gangs. The article was accompanied by a photograph of the house where the man’s wife and family lived.  The article also gave the location of the house.

Ms Katrina Whelan, the complainant, is the wife of the man named in the article. She made a complaint to the Press Ombudsman’s Office that the article breached the rights of privacy of her children and herself and, in addition, placed her children’s and her own life in grave danger. She claimed that Principles 5 and 9 had been breached.

The Sunday World in response to the complaint stated that everything in the article was accurate and that the husband of the complainant was a “known criminal of many years and has placed himself at the centre of gangland crime for decades”. In regard to the house which featured in the article the Sunday World stated the man’s business is registered at the house, a fact it said, which is on the public record in the Companies Registration Office. The newspaper concluded its defence of the article by stating that it was the husband of the complainant through his “continued involvement in organised crime (that) has always put his, and his family’s, lives in danger and not the article” of earlier this year.

As the complaint could not be conciliated it was forwarded to the Press Ombudsman for a decision.

In regard to Principle 5 I believe the woman’s and her family’s privacy was breached. There is no public interest in providing information as to where his wife lived, particularly as she was not accused of any wrong-doing whatsoever in the article.

In regard to Principle 9 I do not see how the publication of the photograph and location of the house where the wife and family lived could be justified.  Principle 9 requires the press to take particular care is seeking and presenting information or comment about a child under the age of 16. A child lived in the house that was identified. Her mother has expressed her concern about her child’s safety especially in the context of recent gangland killings. I am of the view that publishing the photograph and locality of the house was a breach of Principle 9.

The Sunday World appealed the decision of the Press Ombudsman to the Press Council.

The newspaper’s appeal was considered by the Press Council on 2 December, 2016. The Council decided to uphold the decision of the Press Ombudsman that Principles 5 and 9 of the Code of Practice had been breached.